Tag Archives: folklore

Further Pennsylvania Folklore

During my the past week, which I spent in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania–more commonly known as The Middle of Nowhere–I discovered a series of books which should be of some interest to Urban Phantasy readers.  Pennsylvania Fireside Tales, by Jeffrey R. Frazier, is a multi-volume collection of folklore, ghost stories, hunting stories, and legends from the Native American tribes of Pennsylvania.

If I had been able to justify the expense, I might well have come away from the small bookshop where I found these books with the whole set, but that was not to be.  Nevertheless, I’m going to try to lay hands on the books.  I put my trust in the public library system on this count.

If you can track these books down, I recommend at least glancing through one or two, even if the prices seem a bit steep for each of the slim hardback volumes.


In Which RPGs Play an Inspiring Part

I may or may not have mentioned before how important RPGs have been to my writing process.  Don’t just write me off as one of those people who just writes lousy stories based off of their Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, though.  That’s not me at all.  Rather, what I’m referring to is my tendency to come up with interesting story ideas when I’ve been sitting around playing our pen-and-paper-game-du-jour.  Sometimes these ideas are related to the game that I’m involved in, but more often I find that the mindset I get into when I’m really into a game is also conducive to coming up with interesting ideas that I can then expand upon with an eye towards writing something substantial.

Part of what makes RPGs such a good jumping-off point for story inspiration is that they often feature mythological creatures which can be borrowed in one way or another for a story.  This borrowing, of course, usually leads me down a long, winding path of links on Wikipedia as I look up more information, essentially getting some of my story written for me without my having to do much except for a bit of virtual legwork.

I could go on at length about stealing for fun and profit, but the guys at Writing Excuses just did that for me, and I don’t think that I can really improve upon what they have to say on the subject.

I’ll close out by saying that, while playing RPGs gets my mind ticking towards writing, I’m not everybody.  The main point is to expose yourself to as many different influences as you can.  What RPGs have in their favor is their tendency to mash lots of aspects of different cultures, especially the folklore of different cultures, into one  place, making for a diverse slice of different creatures and concepts to get you sitting with your preferred writing implements and working on a story.

The Witch of the Wissahickon

In the woods near the Wissahickon Creek, just a bit north of Walnut Lane, stands a statue of a man in plain Quaker garb who looks out over the valley.  Inscribed upon that statue is the word “Toleration.”  The rock on which this statue stands, Mom Rinker’s Rock has a curious history, and figured slightly in the Battle of Germantown during the Revolutionary War.

Stories say that, during that battle, Colonial spies received information about British troop movements from a woman known as Molly “Mom” Rinker.  This is nothing so unusual except that other stories, unconnected with the Revolution, tell of a witch name Mom Rinkle who haunted, as it were, those same parts.

I’m both sad and happy to say that I could find little information concerning Mom Rinkle/Rinker save that she drank dew from acorn-cups and could put the evil eye on neighbors; sad because there’s little historical information to inform my writing and happy because, more so than usual, I have permission to make things up wholesale.

I’m always happy to find local legends, especially old ones, and this one lends itself well to future stories.  It also gives me a reason, as if I needed one, to go up along the Wissahickon.  I hope I’m not the only Philly local inspired to do so.

Borrowing and Folk Tales

This post may seem to go against my previous posts about abandoning the same old same old, but bear with me.  One of the best places to turn when searching for story ideas is old stories.  The brothers Grimm made their mark not by writing new stories, but by collecting old ones.  Folklore of all stripes is a wonderful starting-point for a story, even if it’s only inspiration that leads you off on another track.  Likewise, borrowing plots can be a fun exercise, and can start your writing back up when you’ve stalled.

Now comes the part where I tell you not to write the same old same old.  When I say that you should borrow plots, I mean that you should borrow frameworks.  You’ll get a lot farther trying on a framework that you’ve seen used by a favorite author than you will trying to write something that nobody has written before, for, as the Barenaked Ladies say, “It’s all been done.”

Tolkien is a good example of this kind of borrowing.  The Hobbit is Beowulf with hobbits, dwarfs, elves, wizards, and orcs.  If you don’t believe me, go  read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, then come back and see about quibbling with me.

Often, when a story pops into my head, it will borrow its framework from an H. P. Lovecraft story or a piece of mythology or folklore that I remember.  The key here is that, while I borrow that framework, I’m not just writing that remembered story over again with different names.  I’m taking something old and making it new by putting my own twist on it.

When it comes to borrowing from folk tales, I can’t think of a body of work that does so better than Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. Maybe you’re not familiar with all the folk tales that are used as the framework for various Hellboy stories, maybe you are, but whatever the case is, you can’t argue with the fresh treatment that they’re given.

Even if you’re not inclined to borrow whole frameworks from folk tales any mythology, it’s worth taking a look at for source material.  Though it may sometimes be disappointing to find that something that you thought was an original creation of your mind actually comes from a story you were read when you were a child, take heart.  Borrowed elements come with familiarity attached to them already, and you can use that familiarity to your advantage, forging a stronger connection with readers and strengthening your own work by incorporating those elements that you had forgotten.

This all comes with my usual boilerplate, don’t overdo it.  It becomes tiring to realize that an author is just using obviously borrowed frameworks, to the point that you may be able to predict the ending from the first few pages of a story.  You can’t rely on the work of others to hold up your own stories, you must support them with your own strong writing if they’re to have a chance of standing up against jaded readers and editors who’ve seen everything twice over.

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